29 March 2017 | 12 °C

Talking To Stratford's DIY Skater Movement

Talking To Stratford's DIY Skater Movement

Stratford is a tale of two malls: on the one side, fancy Westfield with its high-end fashion chains, oyster bars and craft beer brewery, while on the other side of the tracks, the Stratford Centre — still popular, despite the attention lavished on its glamorous new neighbour.

Every night the older mall undergoes a transformation, swapping the hum of shoppers for the swish of skaters, rollerbladers, bikers and street dancers.

From around 5pm an eclectic community appears; made up of people from all backgrounds  — students, project managers and salespersons, and aged 15 to 35 they gather to celebrate their passion for skating. Some skaters are complete beginners, others already semi-pro, but most of them somewhere in between.

The rollerbladers tend to stick to the west side of the mall, rehearsing amid loud music playing from portable music systems, a sharp contract with the weird classical music playing over the mall speakers.

Emmanuel, 36 is an Italian project manager who rollerblades every other day with his friends. “I’ve been here for a year. I was looking for a space to rehearse," he says, "The ground is smooth and it is a free space."

A bunch of kids laugh at them and kick the cups. Does it happen often?

"From time to time," he replies.

Ella, 18 is a biology student and former ice-skater. She was born and bred in the area and for her, “the mall is great for kids who may have issues at home and can just skate here and forget about them.

"The security guys are sometimes rude when it's like 4am and they ask us to leave. We're not doing any harm. If the council doesn't want us here, why are they not building a proper skate park?

A man interrupts to hand her some food. They met each other a few hours ago but he kindly offered to get her something to eat.

"What I like about that place is that we're one big community just having fun," says Ella. "We all end up knowing each other. And it's a great place to learn. People won't judge you as harshly as they would if we were in a proper skate park."

Celine, 23, and Anne, 24, are both French. They started skating a year ago.

Celine says: "When we started living with a bunch of skaters, it became obvious that we had to try, so I bought a board. We learned from scratch, watching videos on Youtube and recording ourselves skating. It was hard at first.

"Plus, being a girl and a skater, men tend to believe that you're just there to be pretty and take selfies. You're judged so easily. We had to show them we were serious about it. I use to come to the mall with makeup on and nice clothes but now I wear a pair of jeans and my sneakers, just what I need to skate."

Anne adds that there are many stereotypes about girls who skate, one being that “they take pictures with their boards just because it looks pretty. That's why I wasn't so keen on taking pictures".

She explains that "skaters tend to have a bad rep, especially when we're on the street and no one lets us pass. So we come here because it's warm, we can see where we're skating and the floor is smooth. Plus, skating is noisy but no one will complain here.

"Our flatmates are all skaters and we all support each other. We give each other advice on how to achieve the figures and we all come together here to skate."

Boards and rollers are exchanged and everyone is welcome to try — eve people passing by stop and talk to those skating. The mall is all about sharing and trying, no matter what your ability. Despite how much London has changed, some subcultures are still surviving and thriving — in the most unlikely places.

Last Updated 02 November 2016